Two things happened which had me thinking about reviews this week. Firstly, I got some fresh comments on a 2015 story I did on the mania for 5-star reviews on Etsy. Then, I saw a Book Riot piece that asks: What’s the purpose of a book review?
It’s actually a useful question. What is the purpose of a review, for a book, or for anything, really? The Etsy people seem to think it’s to improve the seller’s rating so that others will buy from them. The fresh feedback I got on this long-ago story were all from Etsy sellers, and it further confirmed the existence of their belief that anything less than a five-star review is failure—and furthermore, that if you give one, you are making the decision to deliberately harm a person’s business.
Conversely, I always thought that reviews existed for the customer. If there was something I found lacking, I felt that the review was my place to warn away other customers who may share my view. I can’t stand reading an e-book with many typos, for instance. I appreciate when another review warns me away from a book which has this problem, and I assume that if this issue does not bother you personally, you are smart enough to dismiss my review as irrelevant and continue your shopping unimpeded.
To me, the author’s ‘feelings’ simply don’t enter into it. I am never rude when I review. I am never mean and malicious. But I feel that if the author puts it out there on the market and I pay money for it, it’s fair to truly say what I thought. I will be complimentary when the product calls for it; I don’t think I am especially stingy. But I have many friends who share my taste. I know what will annoy them in a book, or which books they may especially like. It is for their benefit that I review, when I choose to.
But maybe I’m wrong about this. I know many authors work very hard to get reviews. I have gotten a few mediocre ones, and while they didn’t hurt my feelings (I am too business-like for that), I did wish they had been a little more explicit about what it was which failed to meet their expectation. I got a two-star review which simply said ‘not what I expected.’ I wished I could speak to that person and ask them: what did you expect? And how could I provide that for you next time?
Image credit: Here.